The Zimbabwe cricket team left the country last night for their scheduled tour of Pakistan with the local cricket governing body’s board chairman Wilson Manase expressing confidence at the measures their hosts have put in place to ensure the team’s safety.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Manase was at Harare International Airport where the team was given a rousing send off by a large group of Pakistani nationals living in Zimbabwe ahead of the tour. The team includes six returnees and one new cap, have agreed to travel to Pakistan for the two T20 and three one-day international series which begins on May 22.
Zimbabwe becomes the first Test-playing nation to tour Pakistan since 2009, when an attack on the Sri Lankan team bus left six Pakistani policemen and a van driver dead, while some players and a local umpire were injured.
Since the attack in Lahore six years ago, Pakistan have been playing their home matches at neutral venues in the United Arab Emirates.
However, Manase remained confident that Pakistan would deliver on their promise to provide high level security for the team, telling reporters that his counterpart had assured them that the team would be safe despite the recent terrorist attacks in Karachi.
“We have closely looked at this particular tour, right from the time when it was mooted. We have been closely monitoring the situation and for us to arrive at the decision to send our team there, we are confident that they will be safe,” Manase said.
“Mr Khan, who is my counterpart in Pakistan, is a former Foreign Affairs minister in Pakistan, a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN and was a UN ambassador to Rwanda during the genocide.
“The Pakistan Foreign minister and the Minister for State Security also called me on Friday to give assurances and confirm that things are in order. This is the highest echelon of government in Pakistan.”
Zimbabwe’s decision to finally go ahead with the tour came after lengthy discussions with government and the country’s Sports and Recreation Commission (SRC), who had last week advised ZC against going ahead with the tour.
“We consulted government and told them what our intensions are and the SRC was clear in their position to us and what their recommendation was, but they left it for us to decide. We sent a mission there and they came up with their recommendations and after that, we had to seek approval from relevant agencies in government on the situation at hand and we are assured that it was OK to go,” he said.
The prominent lawyer also dismissed reports that Zimbabwe had committed to the tour for financial gains, saying Pakistan were one of the few countries who stood by Zimbabwe when other countries were unwilling to tour the African nation.
“You recall that when Zimbabwe had the similar kind of problems where you are looked at like a pariah state or a no-go area for various reasons, Pakistan was one of the few teams that agreed to tour Zimbabwe together with other countries like Bangladesh, our neighbours South Africa, West Indies and India.
“We did not force anyone. The players are all willing to travel and I also want to dismiss that we are going to Pakistan for money. This is a bilateral tour and Pakistan will also be returning the favour. Mind you, we will be hosting other countries later this year and we need to have more cricket for the team to ensure that we will be able to accommodate them just like how Pakistan has accommodated us,” he said.
Zimbabwe’s departure came a few hours after the International Cricket Council (ICC) had released a statement saying they would not be sending match officials for the tour.
The international player body, FICA, also said their security report revealed that the risks of touring Pakistan were “unmanageable”.
The ICC said its security consultants had advised against sending officials to Pakistan, who will instead use their own umpires for the matches.
The appointment of local match officials will not affect the official status of the games, the ICC said in a statement.
“The ICC today advised the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) that it will not be appointing its match officials for the upcoming series between Pakistan and Zimbabwe,” the statement read.
“The ICC Board, during its April meeting, had decided that the playing conditions relating to the appointment of match officials could be waived to allow the PCB to appoint local match officials for this series should the ICC decide not to send its umpires and referee due to the current security situation in Pakistan.
“If this was to occur, the matches would still be considered ‘official cricket’, even though they will not be played strictly in accordance with the ICC standard playing conditions.”
The hosts, who are desperate to win the confidence of the cricketing world, however, remained confident they would host a successful tour as they announced a team of local umpires, including Zimbabwe’s Russel Tiffin who also left yesterday.
Ticket sales for the series started on Saturday and police conducted a dress rehearsal of the security arrangements for the tourists.
Zimbabwe have been promised VIP security which includes armed guards, an armed vehicle escort and helicopter monitoring of their travel in Lahore, the only city they will visit.
Zimbabwe squad: Elton Chigumbura (captain), Sikandar Raza, Charles Coventry, Chamu Chibhabha, Craig Ervine, Roy Kaia, Hamilton Masakadza, Chris Mpofu, Tawanda Mupariwa, Richmond Mutumbami, Tinashe Panyangara, Vusi Sibanda, Prosper Utseya, Brian Vitori, Sean Williams, Graeme Cremer
Technical Staff: Head Coach — Davenell Whatmore; Bowling coach — Douglas Hondo; Batting coach — Andy Waller; Team analyst — Stanley Chioza; Fitness trainer — Sean Bell; Physiotherapist — Anesu Mupotaringa; and Team Manager — Christian Chiketa